Whitney Plantation Visit


Whitney Plantation resides on the River Road about one hours drive from New Orleans.  A recent visit there provided much enlightening information about the slave trade, crops grown near New Orleans, and the history of this area. Tours can be scheduled all days of the week except Tuesday.  It is unique in that many different types of plantation buildings still exist there, including old slave cabins, a foundry,  and the outside kitchen.

A German immigrant started the plantation in the late 1700s.  At Habitation Haydel, its original name, he grew indigo.  After his death, his youngest son converted the main crop grown to sugar cane, which is still grown there today.  Both indigo and sugar cane required intensive labor for profitability.

Although, according to population data, only ten blacks lived in Louisiana in 1712, by the end of the century slavery was the main source of labor.  In 1795, there were 19,926 slaves in Louisiana.  Under Spanish rule the slave population steadily increased.  Although many were imported from Haiti, those from Africa came from what are now the countries of Senegal, Bissau, and Guinea.  After the initial importation of slaves, the United States imported few compared to islands in the West Indies and Latin America, e.g. Brazil.  The preferred method in the United States to obtain slaves was breeding.  Women and men were forced to breed.  Their owners specifically chose certain people to produce certain types of progeny just like in breeding livestock.  One woman complained of having 16 children by 16 different men.

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After leaving the visitor center, the first building on the tour is the church.  Inside the church are statues of various children who were the products of the breeding program at the plantation.

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The artist created these statues from specific information about the children.  The plantation owners maintained detailed inventories of all slaves and their value.  This particular plantation often owned as many as 100 slaves.

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From this inventory a memorial has been created with the names of the slaves.  Included are various statements made by the slaves themselves as recorded in slave narratives.

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The above tells the story of a child fathered by his owner and one of the slave women and how his father treated him.

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Even pregnant women could not escape beatings.

IMG_2735Because the area around New Orleans receives 60 inches of rain a year, the landscape everywhere is lush.  This is one of several pools at the plantation.

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These containers cooked the sugar cane.  Starting with the largest, the cane was boiled repeatedly until it cooked down and poured into increasingly smaller containers.  This was especially dangerous work due to the fires, the heat, and the boiling sugar cane. Sugar cane production was much more dangerous than cotton which was grown farther north in Louisiana.  The cane itself was cut with large machetes and the edges of the cane are also sharp.  Many people were severely injured.  The life expectancy of a sugar cane slave who worked in the fields or cooking the cane was approximately ten years from the time he or she went to work, often as young as ten. Although field slaves had a much harder life in terms of labor, they had less exposure to their owners and their families and therefore, in some ways, more freedom to talk and interact. House slaves were constantly watched and the women especially subject to sexual abuse.

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Slave cabins like this one contained four rooms.  Like the main plantation house, most buildings were built off the ground.  No levees existed then and the largest plantations were often built within sight of the Mississippi River and thus prone to flooding.

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This building housed the foundry.  Skilled slaves, like blacksmiths, were very valuable and received better treatment, e.g. enough food.  When the movie, “Django Unchained” was filmed, part of the movie was filmed here because the adjoining plantation did not have a blacksmith shop.  The branding portion was filmed at Whitney Plantation.

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The walkway, looking from the front of the main plantation house, is lined with giant oak trees.  Before the levees were built, the Mississippi River could be seen from the house.

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Originally, there was no first floor due to the flooding.  Later, after it will built and used for dining, an office, and a living area, whenever the floods came, the slaves were required to carry everything to the second floor until the water subsided. Then they would clean the first floor of mud and debris and return the furniture there.  Whitney Plantation possesses some unique characteristics, e.g. finely painted European style ceilings.

Cooking was not done inside the main house at any of the plantations due to the heat and fire danger. The cook, another skilled and valuable slave, was required to know how to cook various popular cuisines typical of the area, e.g. creole, European–French, Spanish.

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The various ferns and mosses growing from the limb of this large oak trees demonstrates the lushness and humidity typical of this area and why it is still used for sugar cane production.

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A short distance down the road is Evergreen Plantation where the main portion of “Django Unchained” was filmed.  It, too, still produces sugar cane and a family lives here.  Tours are available as well.

 

 

 

 

Currently: Eagerly Anticipating #Akefest16 in Abeokuta


For those who want to explore movies, musicians, and writers many of you may never have heard of, here is a lengthy list with photos.

Kinna Reads

It’s 1pm and I’m planning my trip to Abeokuta – I leave on Wednesday.  Yessss, the 2016 edition of Ake Arts and Book Festival is loading…. I’m so excited, I have butterflies, the pit of my stomach is always warm because

That is me up there, scheduled to host a book chat with NoViolet Bulawayo and Jennifer Makumbi!  Ms. Makumbi is the author of Kintu, which qualifies as the most recent addition to my all time list of favorite African fiction ever. I’m so stoked.😆😆😆.

I will also moderate this:

Laila Lalami, fellow book lovers!

Finally, I’m also on this:

It’s all very glorious!

#AkeFest16 comprises 12 panel discussions, including:

(I get to meet Sarah Ladipo Manyika (InDependence) finally…

9 Book chats such as:

Also on the schedule are film screenings, a play and a concert:

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o will headline. In boxing parlance, he is the…

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I Have a Dream


Fifth-three years ago today Martin Luther King, Jr. gave one of the most inspiring and telling speeches ever given by a person from this country.  Today I listened to a young man, Patrick Miller, a middle school teacher here in Amarillo, give this same speech totally from memory with no notes.  I feel saddened at the extent to which King’s speech still rings true, that although we have progressed tremendously, people of African descent and others of color still experience prejudice at so many levels in their lives, frequently on a daily basis.

Here I offer other quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Life’s most persistent and urgent questions is, “What are you doing for others?”

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive.  He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.  There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.  When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.

The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.  

Dealing with Despair by Carol P. Christ


This blog post also notes that cities and small towns use traffic tickets for minor violations to fund their governments. Immediately, I thought of a tiny town on the highway from Amarillo to Dallas that rakes in huge amounts of money this way. Then this morning I just read of another incident where police killed a black man who, instead of having a gun as police claimed, had his hands up in the air–from a surveillance camera nearby. The police officers in question had on body cameras–that footage has not yet been released. I am quite sure we will hear more about that one even if it has not been on the national news yet.

Philando Castile, school cafeteria worker, killed driving while black Philando Castile, school cafeteria worker, killed driving while black

In a state of shock after the police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, I turned to my Facebook feed, looking for community in my grief and hoping to make sense of what had happened. The statement, “He would not have been shot if he had been white,” referring to Philando Castile, appeared several times. The first time I saw it, I responded, “He would not even have been stopped if he had been white.” Think about it if you are white: how many times have you been pulled over by the police?

I can answer that question: in the United States, only once, and that was because I made a second illegal U-turn at the same stop-lighted intersection as a teenager.  The policeman issued me two tickets, stating that he had been willing to let the first offence go…

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DNA


Several months ago I decided to participate in the Human Genome Project through National Geographic.   When I called to order the kit, the young man reminded me that as a woman, I would receive only one half of my ancestry, the female half.  Since women do not have a Y chromosome, a woman can only trace her female family line through her mitochondrial DNA.  He suggested I use my grandson’s DNA so I would receive complete results.  Of course, that meant that in the end, I would have to factor in what I knew about his father’s family and deduct that to determine my own.  After the Geno 2.0 kit arrived, we took his cheek swabs and mailed them off.  This week when we returned from an 11 day family road trip, the results arrived.  With the results came detailed explanations of human migratory history and even comparisons of populations with DNA most like his.  Although none were close, the top two groups were people in Bermuda and Mexican Americans.  Luckily, the information contained a detailed explanation of the people of Bermuda.  The Native American results I expected since his great grandfather was Navaho.  Other parts came as somewhat a surprise. Once again I am taking a poetry class and now working on publishing a book of my poetry so I decided to write a poem about this experience.

The results loom before me on

the computer, percentages:

Northern European, Mediterranean,

Native American, Neanderthal,

sub Sahara African, South African–

as in the Bushmen in the Kalahari,

Northeast Asian, Southwest Asian.

Suddenly, calculations move through

my brain.  I look again, add, subtract,

recalculate, stare, ponder. Is there

a family secret I missed?  How will

I know, from whom?

Everyone I could ask is dead.

SAM_1183

The Encounter Poems


Throughout my life, I seem to experience what I call encounters:  meeting people I never saw before and having some type of connection with them.  Various things occur under these circumstances.  Sometimes I keep in contact for at least a while with these people and sometimes not.  This week I am going to post several of these poems.  Here is the first one.

In Line at a Fast Food Restaurant

Caramel eyes

glowing in a brown face

Panama hat

Intricately carved silver cross

Crisp, snowy linen shirt

No collar

Slacks loose.

He’s lost weight.

I think,

“Gorgeous brown man.”

He says,

“In case no one has told you lately,

you’re gorgeous!”

He walks off to meet

the pregnant woman in the corner.

Blood Quantum


This poem is dedicated to Sherman Alexie whose poem, “13/16” begins with:

“I cut my self into sixteen equal pieces…”

My grandson cuts himself into 16 equal pieces:

4/16 Urhobo from Africa

4/16 Spanish from Spain

4/16 other European—two Swiss

German great great-grandfathers

(Werth and Kaiser), Irish, English

and who knows what

3/16 Mexican—whatever  mixtures that may be

1/16 Navaho

 

Who am I?  What am I?

Who are you? What are you?

Do we really know?

Who sets the rules?

-white men

-black

-Indian

-Native American

-Irish

-English

-German

from where and for whom?

He looks Navaho:

-blue black straight hair,

-pale brown skin,

-obsidian eyes.

One four year old girl asks him,

“Are you an American Indian?”

His six your old self says nothing.

She repeats,

“Are you an American Indian?”

He says, “It’s complicated.

The Navaho won’t claim him, too little blood.

He needs ¼ , not 1/16.

Caddo and Fort Sill Apache allow 1/16, not Navahos.

¼ blood is for

-Sioux

-Cheyenne

-Kiowa

-Navaho

1/8 works for Comanche and Pawnee.

Some Cherokees only want a Cherokee ancestor.

 

But he is none of those.

Is he Navaho?

Is he white?

The Old South goes by the one drop rule:

one drop of Negro…

Is a person with 99/100 percent white

and 1/100 black , black?

Who says?

Kids at school ask, What are you?”

He tells them.

They say, “You’re lying!”

 

I only know specifically about two ancestors,

the Swiss Germans.

Another great grandfather disappeared during the Civil War.

I don’t even know his name.

Who am I?

Who are you?

I think I’ll get a DNA test.

Then I’ll know how many pieces I need to cut myself into.